Tabletop for one: As the dice fall, so does a hero

Now where were we?

Oh, right. Initiative rolls between tough, dwarven ex-soldier Jindra and three Redbrand ruffians on the streets of Phandalin. Here she was, trying to do everything on the DL, with a mind towards infiltrating this gang’s base. But it turns out they’ve gathered some intel on her  as well, and the thought of some adventurer hanging around town is something they ought to nip in the bud.

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Initiative rolls came out to a tie (4) but these ruffians have the edge in dexterity so to them the first attack goes. Unfortunately, these enemies each get two attacks, so there was a very real possibility of getting smoked before the round even went to Jindra. However, out of six attacks, only one was a hit.

Surrounded by three enemies, Jindra had little in the way of options so she took a swing at one…and missed. Feeling in dire straits though, she blew her action surge and not only hit, but scored a critical. She actually managed to drop one of them right off the bat. i thought she might have justice on her mind more than fury, and it would be a knockout shot rather than a straight up kill.

Next round didn’t go so great, with the Redbrands landing one strike each, and Jindra scoring a single hit of her own plus using her Second Wind to get some precious hp back. The following round took Jindra’s health down pretty low, while Jindra dropped another bad guy. At that point, she risked an opportunity attack to move away from them and try to escape, with a mind towards making it to the Townmaster’s Hall and maybe getting some help from Sildar.

As it turns out, when only one Redbrand remained, he’s supposed to flee as well and head for Tresendar Manor. So, i guess it’s really no secret where this gang is holed up? Which begs the question why they need that secret tunnel entrance in the woods.

In retrospect, i should have thought a bit more about options and tactics. The smart move would have been making a break for the Townmaster’s Hall right away.  At any rate, this particular encounter was a learning lesson that could be applied to any size group, really. While the default actions of an RPG group is basically fight to the death every time, it makes more a more interesting experience to put some thought into any encounter.

On a related note, i’ve been listening to a lot of gameplay podcasts recently, most notably those of Acquisitions Incorporated. And also Titansgrave. There’s a few other ones but those are my favorites.

Both of these shows offer excellent examples of my idea of an ideal RPG experience. Although different in tone, both campaigns are focused primarily on the story. More than that, there is a real dedication to bringing the characters to life in the spotlight as the heroes of their respective stories.

What i enjoy most about AI games (aside from the humor) is the players’ efforts to think in relatively realistic terms about the situations they find themselves in, the elaborate schemes, plots and tactics they devise, and the shift from multiple combat encounters to instead usually one grand battle per session.

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In Titansgrave, the roleplaying is just so delicious. i don’t want to diverge too much, or spoil it for anyone who checks it out. Suffice it to say, the flow of the show and the game itself does an excellent job of creating real drama by expertly weaving together great DMing and on-the-fly story developments through player actions and reactions.

Back to the game at hand, the townspeople who witness Jindra’s streetfight with the Redbrands are grateful and bolstered to see someone stand up to them. Those manacles once again came in handy, using them to secure the Redbrand she KO’d and bring him to jail. Townmaster Harbin is reluctant to emprison the ruffian, afraid of the almost certain blowback from the rest of the gang. But Sildar admonishes him and it’s into the cell for the thug. A natural 20 Intimidation roll from Jindra helps cement the deal.

At that, with just 1hp to her name, Jindra announces she’s just going to take a little rest…and passes out.

The next morning (after a long rest) it’s time to head for the Redbrand base. They probably wouldn’t waste any time at least coming in force to the jail to retrieve their man, more than likely with violence on their mind, so Jindra makes haste to get underway with her own mission.

Following Carp’s directions, she very un-stealthily (rolled a 6, stupid disadvantage) makes her way through the woods and finds the secret tunnel entrance. She tries to remain concealed and watch the tunnel for a bit, but sees no signs of anyone coming or going, and then heads into the tunnel warily.

Not too far ahead, the tunnel opens into a crevasse, with two arched wooden bridges across the span on the close and far ends of the chamber.

In her head, she begins to hear murmurs and mad cackles. Something tries to penetrate her thoughts, but her strong dwarven resolve keeps the strange intrusion at bay. Nevertheless, she senses a powerful hunger and hears whispered demands for food in her thoughts. It’s pretty freaky.

Reaching into her explorer’s pack, she removes what is left of her rations and holds them out into the darkness.

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A bizarre, horrifying creature creeps out from further in the crevasse and snatches the rations, greedily devouring them. But the mind-speak suggests it hungers for fresher meat, like maybe dwarf flesh that has to be tastier than the corpse-flesh given to it by the redcloaks.

At a loss, and with nothing else to offer, the creature’s large single eye gleams maliciously – an absolutely devastating attacked called “rotting gaze” that melts off 10 necrotic damage from a failed Constitution save.

For the nonce, however, the nothic won the initiative after its surprise round rotting gaze, and a hit with one of its two claw attacks brings Jindra low. She feebly hits the thing and, realizing i’d need to survive long enough to hit it maybe five or six more times, i’m already wondering what sort of character i’ll roll up next.

And that’s what i’ll share next time, since the nothic’s claw-claw combo on round 2 translated into the nasty thing feasting on dwarf flesh.

Jindra was dead.

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At least Jindra made it further in her adventuring career than Aleena the cleric. Damn you, Bargle!

Even in a solo situation like this, with no other players to react or DM to lay this at the feet of, it was quite deflating. In all the decades i’ve played RPGs, i don’t recall ever having a character die – either my own or someone else’s (although that could very well be due to game groups fizzling out before that could happen). i’ll admit, i was bummed. But then i realized it was an opportunity for a fresh start, and a new take on this whole solo tabletop rpg experiment.

One of the best character death stories i’ve heard was that of a TPK, with the players all rolling new characters and starting over the same adventure. Eventually, they delved into the same dungeon where their previous character all met their end. Deep inside, they came across a half-crazed wildman fiercely guarding a pile of bodies…which they learned were those of their earlier creations, one of whom had actually survived but become hopelessly lost in the labyrinth and survived only to protect his fallen friends, desperate that someone might come and save them. That’s pretty awesome gaming right there.

What’s your most memorable RPG character death? Did you fall into an acid pit and even rolling a nuh-nuh-nuh-nuh nineteen wasn’t good enough to get you out? Were you unceremoniously felled by a random encounter? Was your killed saving the rest of his party from certain doom? Let me know in the comments!

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